For years I dreamed about working from home, and about a year ago, I finally got the opportunity. I love it. I love everything about it. Well, almost everything. It turns out that it’s a little tricky to work from home and still actually get a lot of work done. Unless you have a plan.
Going to an office every day forces you to be in a “work” mindset. Being at home, that’s a little tougher to accomplish. Over the course of the last few months, I’ve figured out a lot of little things that have helped me become far better at getting things accomplished in a home office.
Maintain a Schedule
One of the biggest challenges that comes with working from home is that we no longer have the drive to and from the office that serves to bookend our work day. When we have to go to work, we’re forced to adhere to a schedule, but when we’re working from home, that’s often not the case (although it is for me, since I need to maintain the same hours as my office). Without that forced schedule, it’s easy for a lot of people to lose focus and not work as many hours as they think they are.
The solution to this issue is to create and maintain a schedule. It doesn’t have to by nine to five – the would kind of defeat the purpose of working from home for a lot of people – but it does need to be consistent and have at least some cross-over with “normal business hours” to facilitate client communication.
The key to coming up with a schedule is figuring out when you tend to work the best. Some of us work best first thing in the morning, while others are night owls. Take the time to know yourself and build your schedule around the time you’re going to be doing your best work.
Dress for Success
Working from home, it’s very tempting to just stay in your pajamas all day. Don’t do this. The way your dress affects you psychologically. When you’re wearing “work clothes”, for lack of a better term, you’re telling your brain that you’re in work mode. When you stay in your pajamas, you stay in relaxation mode.
That said, you don’t need to put on a suit and tie before you head down to your basement office. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with casual dress. Work clothes mean different things to different people. Some people insist on slacks and oxfords, others are fine with jeans and a t-shirt. I’ve heard a few people insist that wearing shoes is the key. Find out what works for you and do it.
So long as you make a conscious decision to dress in work clothes at the start of the day, you’re setting yourself up for productivity.
Start Your Day with a To-Do List
Over the last few weeks I did a little experiment. Every other day I would start my day by putting together a to-do list of things I needed to accomplish that day. At the end of each day, I tallied up how much I accomplished in that day. It should come as absolutely no surprise that the days where I made a list were worlds more productive than the days I didn’t.
The big take away? Make a to do list, and do it every day.
What I like to do is alternate items on my list, so that I have a lot of smaller, quicker to accomplish goals mixed in with some of the more in-depth items. Being able to cross off a few of the little things makes you feel like you’re accomplishing a lot, and energizes you to keep working through that list.
If you want to get a lot done while working from home, you’ll have to be professional distraction assassin. Track down anything that might distract you from being productive, and murder it with reckless abandon.
What sort of things should you be looking for? Anything that pulls you away from work: email, Twitter, and Facebook are common ones, but you’ll want to dig a little deeper than that. Look at little household chores; it’s really easy to take a quick breather and do some laundry, and then start wandering around to find other easy-to-finish tasks.
Take Breaks & Be Social
All that about eliminating distractions is important, but it’s also important to take the occasional break and recharge yourself. People can’t continue to work effectively for extremely long periods of time. The longer you plod along, the less effective you become. So take lots of breaks, and not just to get coffee and use the restroom.
Working from home can also get lonely. If you’re like me and you’re a natural introvert, you’re probably pretty okay with this, which is a problem. Working in your own little microcosm all day might allow you to get a lot done, but it will also allow you to get into a serious rut.
It’s important to strike a balance between keeping your nose to the grindstone and keeping yourself fresh and involved in the community. If you neglect one for the other, you’re going to get into trouble in a hurry.
What Did I Miss?
These are the tricks that really seem to work for me, but I’m betting a lot of people have other things that they use to get the most out of their work-from-home hours. If you know of something that works really well, don’t be shy about sharing it in the comments.